by editor | 2nd February 2011 7:18 am
Violence erupts in Alexandria shortly after Egyptian president’s announcement that he will not seek another term
Mubarak’s televised announcement came after eight days of unprecedented nationwide protests [EPA]
CAIRO, EGYPT – Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has announced in a televised address that he will not run for re-election but refused to step down from office – the central demand of millions of protesters who have demonstrated across Egypt over the past week.
His announcement follows a week of protests, in which millions of people have taken to the streets in Cairo and elsewhere.
Mubarak seemed largely unfazed by the protests during his recorded address, which aired at 11pm local time on Tuesday.
Shortly after his speech, clashes broke out between pro-Mubarak and anti-government protesters in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Al Jazeera’s correspondent reported.
Rock-throwing youths at the city’s Mahatit Masr Square scattered as automatic gunfire rang out and a tank advanced towards them before halting and then withdrawing. There was no sign of any casualties.
Mubarak’s words were unlikely to carry much weight with the protesters at Cairo’s Tahrir, or Liberation, Square: they resumed their “Leave, Mubarak!” chant shortly after his speech, and added a few new slogans, like “we won’t leave tomorrow, we won’t leave Thursday …”
Mubarak mentioned the protests at the beginning of his speech, and said that “the young people” have the right to peaceful demonstrations.
But his tone quickly turned accusatory, saying the protesters had been “taken advantage of” by people trying to “undermine the government”.
Until now officials had indicated Mubarak, 82, was likely to run for a sixth six-year term of office. But in his address on Tuesday, Mubarak said he never intended to run for re-election.
“I will use the remaining months of my term in office to fill the people’s demands,” he said.
That would leave Mubarak in charge of overseeing a transitional government until the next presidential election, currently scheduled for September.
Economy and jobs
Mubarak promised reforms to the constitution, particularly Article 76, which makes it virtually impossible for independent candidates to run for office. And he said his government would focus on improving the economy and providing jobs.
“My new government will be responsive to the needs of young people,” he said. “It will fulfil those legitimate demands and help the return of stability and security.”
View: Mapping Egypt’s uprising
Cairo: More than a million people gathered in and around Tahrir Square Alexandria: Hundreds of thousands of protesters
marched in the city Sinai: Around 250,000 protesters rallied El-Mahalla el-Kubra: Up to 250,000 people demonstrated Hundreds of thousands also marched in Port Said, Suez, and Menya
Mubarak also made a point of saying that he would “die in this land” – a message to protesters that he did not plan to flee into exile like recently deposed Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said: “It is clear that President Mubarak is in denial over his legacy.
“Until Friday we are probably going to watch a major escalation of tension in events both between the demonstrators on the one hand and the regime of Mubarak on the other.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian opposition figure who returned to Cairo to take part in the protests, said Mubarak’s pledge not to stand again for the presidency was an act of deception.
ElBaradei, a Nobel peace prize winner as head of the UN nuclear agency, said if Mubarak did not heed the call to leave power at once, he would be “not only a lame-duck president but a dead man walking”.
“He’s unfortunately going to extend the agony here for another six, seven months. He continues to polarise the country. He continues to get people even more angry and could [resort] to violence,” ElBaradei said.
Indeed, none of the protesters interviewed by Al Jazeera earlier today said they would accept Mubarak finishing his term in office.
“He needs to leave now,” Hassan Moussa said in Tahrir Square just hours before Mubarak’s announcement.
“We won’t accept him leaving in September, or handing power to [newly installed vice-president] Omar Suleiman. He needs to leave now.”
The protests continue to feel like a waiting game – as if Mubarak is hoping to simply outlast the crowds amassed at Tahrir Square.
“When the people of a nation decide something, then it will happen,” Abdullah Said Ahmed, a student from Al-Azhar University, said. “The United States chooses its leaders. We’re going to choose ours. Our patience can do anything.”
Our producer in Egypt reports on the latest developments
Saber Shanan said: “I’ll stay here until I die or until the system changes.”
Mubarak’s announcement came after pressure from the US administration, which urged him not to seek re-election.
Frank Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt, met Mubarak on Monday and reportedly told him not to extend his time in office.
In remarks to the media at the White House on Tuesday evening, Barack Obama, the US president, said he had spoken with Mubarak who he said “recognises that the status quo is not sustainable and a change must take place”.
Obama said he told Mubarak that an orderly transition must be meaningful and peaceful, must begin now and must include opposition parties.
Obama emphasised, however, that “it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders”.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mona Eltahawy, a US-based Human Rights activist and Newspaper columnist said that, “The Obama administration has been completely outpaced by what is happening in Egypt. They just do not understand the amount of rage and hatred for Mubarak in Egypt.
“Because for so long, they have sided with this dictator against his own people.”
“This is the defining moment now, and we need to hear from the US administration, ‘Mubarik must go’. Anything short of that will reflect that they, like Muabarak, are completely out of touch with what is happening,” she added.
“The courageous Egyptian revolution is telling the world essentially, that it is time to side with the people,” Eltahawy said.
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